Video Puts Attention on Hostages Held by Somali Pirates

A screengrab from a new video showing captured South Korean sailors being held for ransom and leverage by Somali pirates, March 2012.
A screengrab from a new video showing captured South Korean sailors being held for ransom and leverage by Somali pirates, March 2012.

Somali pirates are threatening to kill South Korean and Indian sailors if those nations do not free pirates they have captured and intend to try in court. Both countries, which have used their navies to attack pirates, refuse to directly deal with kidnappers. A new video showing captured South Korean sailors is re-focusing attention on the hostages.

Pirates who seized a Singaporean-flagged vessel and its crew nearly a year ago say they will not release four South Koreans until their demands are met.

A video broadcast by the independent Somali Channel shows the ship's master, chief engineer, chief mate and second mate being held at gunpoint on land. They explain that their captors demand millions of dollars in compensation for the families of pirates who were killed last year by South Korea's navy.

Speaking on the video, one of those kidnapped, Lee Sang-ho, said there are other demands, as well.

Captured pirates to be tried in South Korean court

Lee said the pirates insist that he and his three colleagues will not be freed unless the government in Seoul releases five Somalis taken prisoner in the South Korean navy operation last year. Commandos attacked a hijacked South Korean-operated chemical tanker, killing eight pirates and capturing five. All 21 members of the freighter's crew were rescued.

The captured pirates were brought to South Korea to stand trial for attempted murder and maritime robbery.

The four South Koreans in the video were taken hostage three months later - on April 30 last year - when their tanker was captured.

On November 30, 2011, the pirates released 13 Indonesians, five Chinese and three Burmese crew members from the tanker. They kept the South Koreans as bargaining chips.  

At that time, the South Korean foreign ministry said the Singaporean operators of the tanker had paid an undisclosed ransom.

South Korean hostages shown in video

The foreign ministry on Monday said it was not aware of the hostage video until contacted by VOA. Ministry officials asked VOA not to re-broadcast it, or report on the status of the South Korean captives, saying it would “not be helpful for the ongoing negotiating process” with the pirates.

On the video, which the captives say was recorded on March 15, the South Koreans complain their health is not good, they are in pain, suffer from a lack of food and water, and that they are in danger.

The plight of the captives is similar to that of seven Indian sailors held since September 2010. A ransom was paid last April, and the vessel and some of the crew were released.

Last year, Somalia's ambassador to India requested the return of more than 100 Somali pirates now in Indian jails.

India, South Korea and the United States are among the nations that have have used their navies to confront Somali pirates.

Money, revenge factor into pirates' motivation

Intelligence and research analyst Tim Hart at Maritime and Underwater Security Consultants in London said that has changed the circumstances. Now the pirates have a new motivation: revenge.

“The ransom is still, obviously, very much at the top of their minds. However, they can focus an awful lot on the political aspect, especially when there has been more offensive actions launched previously,” said Hart.

And that in turn, Hart said, puts hostages in greater peril.

“This political turn, combined with the increased reports about more mistreatment of hostages, shows how that structured model is kind of breaking down and they are getting more and more desperate as their success level falls,” he said.

With armed guards aboard vulnerable ships, and more international military action, the number of successful hijackings has been cut in half in the past few years.

Christian Le Mière, a naval forces and maritime security research fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said the recent decision to start attacking pirate bases on land is controversial.

“From a military operational perspective it's absolutely feasible. From a legal perspective it's questionable whether there are sovereignty issues at play here that won't be accepted. But the E.U. [European Union] recently suggesting it would launch on-land operations denotes that there is broader international agreement that such operations might be acceptable to prevent piracy on the high seas,” said Le Mière.

The International Maritime Bureau says, globally, 439 attacks at sea were reported to it last year. Nearly two-thirds occurred off Somalia in the crossroads of the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden or in the Gulf of Guinea, along Africa's west coast.

Youmi Kim in Seoul and Mohammed Yusuf in Nairobi contributed to this report.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Luisa
April 02, 2012 6:01 PM
Is it possible for you to tell me the URL of this video? Thank you!

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs